Following the success of the last year’s tour to the Netherlands, the TourCats embarked upon another incredible journey, this time to Germany.
The TourCats were established in 2011 as a touring arm of the Birmingham Bobcats, with the intention of visiting a different country each year to introduce slow-pitch softball to other nations. This year the TourCats included three members of the Leeds Terriers an as a result it established a new precedent for future TourCat tours to include any BSF registered player within its membership.
Contact was first made with the Cologne Cardinals/FunCards in October 2011 - with the help of Google translation. A tournament was soon devised by Simon Thull (Cologne FunCards) and Kate Page-Smith (GB TourCats) for 26th May at Circlewood Stadium in Cologne. In addition to the TourCats and the Cologne FunCards there were two other German co-ed fastpitch softball teams - the Mulheim Mavericks and the Aachen Aixplosives. Prior to the tournament none of the German teams had played slow-pitch softball, but were very keen to try it.
In addition to introducing slow-pitch softball to Europe, the TourCats also aim to strengthen team bonds, enhance player’s skills and confidence and to give all members the opportunity to play for their country – an opportunity which is not often available to those who are not extraordinary, experienced athletes. This is probably the most influential factor in the Tour. Regardless of a players skill this responsibility increases their ability and the TourCats success, both on and off the field, are living proof that success is not just about athletic prowess.
To enhance the team experience the TourCats set off from Birmingham on Thursday 24th May in two cars for an extraordinary evening in Ghent involving pirates, barges, gnomes, castles and fruit gins. Three members of the team decided to try wondering off - they won't be doing that again!
Unsurprisingly it was a rather slow start the next day, but after some sightseeing the TourCats resumed their journey to Cologne. Once checked in, the team headed to a fantastic mineral spring water spa in the centre of the city in preparation for the big day.
The day had finally arrived and kitted out in their new GB uniforms the TourCats headed to Circlewood Stadium to meet their opponents. As none of the German teams had played slow-pitch before, the TourCats’ pitcher Dylan Crosby gave each team an introduction into slow-pitch pitching, while Elli Lane and Steph Bicker provided some useful tips on batting and catching. This was a wonderful moment in the progression of slow-pitch softball into Europe and the willingness and amicability of all the teams to learn and teach this variant of the game was a highlight of the Tour.
Although half of the TourCats had never played together before, it did not affect their performance. In temperatures averaging 36°C their first game against the Mulheim Mavericks ended victoriously at 21-2. The first to score a home run in the Tournament was Jim Kent.
To provide a ‘level playing field’ it was decided that the next game against the Cologne FunCards would consist half fast-pitch and half slow-pitch. This was certainly a game-changer and the end result was 9-6 to the FunCards. Reverting back to slow-pitch the final game of the day was against the Aachen Aixplosives who played some astonishing slow-pitch softball, especially as it was their first attempt. After a tense, exhilarating game the TourCats won by 10-6.
In honour of the TourCats the FunCards held a party that evening, providing the perfect end to a fabulous day. The atmosphere throughout the entire tournament was one of friendship, mutual respect, willingness to learn and good humour. The openness between the teams was inspiring and at the end of the day there were no divisions between teams or nationalities; it was just a group of likeminded, enthusiastic softball players.
A bond has been made between these four teams and plans are in the making for repeat tournaments in Birmingham this autumn and Cologne next spring. However, the world is literally the TourCats oyster and in a few months the destination for TourCats 2013 will be announced. A big thank you must go out to the organisers of the tournament principally Simon Thull, Monica .. and Michael Paffrath. Finally the tour would not have been a success without the TourCats, Jim Kent, Chris Williams, Elli Lane, Pete Burgess, Steph Bicker, Dan Smith, Dylan Crosby, Joe Cybaniak, Ed Jones and Kate Page-Smith. They truly were great ambassadors for the sport and for the country.